Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to hundreds of high school students for a "Constitution Day" event in Orange County. My topic was the influence of money on political campaigns.
I made a few observations, which may or may not give us some insight into future members of the California electorate.
First, my perception is that this was a smart, engaged group who were disillusioned by the influence of money in politics. Some students voiced their feelings that contributions and expenditures are a form of legalized bribery; most agreed that people give campaign contributions and make independent expenditures to get something in return from a candidate.
Second -- again with the caveat that this is just based on my perception of the conversation -- many of the students seemed to believe that candidates and elected officials are amenable to the needs and interests and campaign donors and those who make independent expenditures on a candidate's behalf. It was, seemingly, assumed that elected officials would be in some way indebted to those giving them large sums, or spending large sums on their behalf.
In sum, the students appeared to take it as a given that people give and candidates receive with the understanding that this money is part of a type of business deal. Money is given and spent, and a favor is expected and granted in return.
Money May Talk
While many of the students agreed that money caused problems in the political and electoral processes, many also agreed that money helps candidates reach voters. Students voiced concerns that if the use of money in campaigns was too severely limited it would silence the ability of donors, candidates, or independent spenders to disseminate their messages.
In essence the students hit upon the delicacy of the balance that must the struck when creating campaign finance regulations. On one hand, there are significant, compelling, and/or important governmental interests weighing in favor of restricting the use of money in political campaigns. On the other hand, money was and is still needed to help disseminate one's message.
There are no easy answers, but I am grateful for the thoughts and impressions that the students shared with me on this complex and important topic.